Why Not A "Project for a Participatory Society--U.S."?
By Stephen Roblin at Sep 12, 2010
In Cynthia Peter's article "The Most Important Part of Going to the U.S. Social Forum: Coming Home," she asks participants of the recent U.S. Social Forum, "Does the Social Forum get stored away as a great memory, one of those 'events' that brought people briefly together and showed us a glimpse of something powerful and inspiring? Do you go back to the daily struggle newly energized but with no ways of institutionalizing that momentum?" She then goes on to say, "the consequences of NOT knitting ourselves together into some sort of larger movement powerful enough to truly staunch the bleeding and heal the wounds are obvious: the wounds keep leaking and our Band-Aids are exactly that."
In my view, the questions and overall point put forth by Peters applies to ZMI grads. Do we return from Woods Hole with fond memories, a few new friends, and leave it at that? Or do we create an institution from the foundation of our shared commitment to participatory principles and the social bonds formed during experiences at ZMI? My guess is that most of us would be willing to entertain answering the latter question in the affirmative. And lucky for us, there are organizational templates that we could alter to meet our specific needs and objectives, so we wouldn't have to start from scratch.
An organization that I think deserves serious consideration as a possible template is the Project for a Participatory Society--U.K. (http://www.ppsuk.org.uk/). The organization is based on a shared committment to promoting a more participatory society. They've organized themselves into local chapters, which have their own projects. The hub appears to be its central website, which I think is fantastic, substantively and aesthetically. Moreover, they appear to have been able to overcome geographical distances by initiating local projects within the context of a larger organizational structure.
Would ZMI grads (and anyone else) currently residing in the U.S. be interested in forming a national project, which may be called a "Project for a Participatory Society--U.S."? If so, how could such a project be jumpstarted? One way would be to send out a call to ZMI grads asking if anyone would be interested in forming work groups to: 1) plan a conference in a year or so with a clear political agenda (as opposed to just a ZMI reunion) and 2) build a central website , which could be closely modeled after the UK version and directly linked with Zcom.
Clearly, it's not simply a coincidence that we all attended ZMI. My huntch is that we agree on too much not to begin forming a strategic bloc within the larger Left.